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21 posts from October 2011

October 31, 2011

Griffin, Bjelica Sun Belt POWs; Seedings, honors for soccers

FIU kicker Jack Griffin, now a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award, won the Sun Belt Special Teams Player of the Week award for last week's games. Griffin knocked in three field goals against Troy, including the overtime 22-yarder, and kicked off well. His 15 field goals this season are only two behind his school record.

On the downside for FIU, nobody the Panthers needed to lose in the Sun Belt actually did so. Arkansas State beat North Texas to go to 4-0 in the conference. Louisiana-Lafayette spanked Middle Tennessee State, 45-20, so they're 5-1 in conference. Western Kentucky, this week's FIU opponent, outlasted Lousiana-Monroe in overtime as Bobby Rainey ran for another C-note.

VOLLEYBALL

This is the almost-weekly announcement that FIU hitter Jovana Bjelica has been named the Sun Belt's Player of the Week. Again.

In the 10 sets of FIU's three wins against FAU, Troy and South Alabama, Bjelica racked up 52 kills, 26 digs and six blocks. She had two 20-kill matches.

A longer post on Bjelica will be coming in the next few days.

WOMEN'S SOCCER

FIU has the No. 2 seed in the Sun Belt Conference tournament, hosted by Middle Tennessee State, and will open against No. 7 Arkansas State Wednesday at 10 a.m., the tournament's first match. If they win, they'll play at 4 p.m. Thursday against the Denver-South Alabama winner.

In the regular season, FIU beat Arkansas State 2-1 in overtime; South Alabama 2-0 at home; and Denver 1-0 at home. The Denver win gives FIU the tiebreaker for the second seed. FIU also beat No. 1 seed North Texas this season.

MEN'S SOCCER

Sophomore goalie Eric Reyes shared the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Week Award after stopping eight shots, including an overtime penalty kick, as FIU tied No. 25 Alabama-Birmingham 0-0 at UAB Saturday.

The PK was one of several things FIU coach Munga Eketebi didn't like about the officiating.

"I think the ref let the game get out of hand," FIU coach Munga Eketebi said. "It's the first time I've seen 20something fouls called in a game and there wasn't a single card given.The game was a typiical conference battle, but the ref just kept letting everything go. Players eventually started cheap shotting each other."

Saturday was the third time FIU's tied or beaten a ranked team this season, which ends Friday with a home game against Florida Gulf Coast. Senior Night also will be Message from Marli Foundation Night. The foundation raised $40,000 for ovarian cancer research.

October 28, 2011

Soccer Seniors

At 7:30 tonight, FIU's women's soccer team finishes its regular season with a game against FAU. It'll be the final regular season game for seniors Cortney Bergin, Kelly Ann Hutchinson, Victoria Miliucci, April Perry, Mel Raimo, Katrina Rose, Deanna Rossi and redshirt junior Carly Jones.

Not a bad class -- Sun Belt champions in 2009, kicking off the first hat trick of 10-win seasons in the program's history. There's still a shot at this year's Sun Belt tournament title, something that should fall to FIU, North Texas or Denver. FIU beat both North Texas and Denver, which play tonight for the Sun Belt regular season title. But for a surprising 1-1 tie with Louisiana-Lafayette at home last weekend, FIU would have a shot at the regular season title with a North Texas win.

Count this season as a success considering where the team was just over a month ago, at 2-5 and coming off a 7-0 waxing by Oregon State. Since then, they've gone 8-1-2, a turnaround led in some ways by and most appreciated by, those in their last go-round at FIU. 

October 27, 2011

Men's Hoop Belt Media Day, football injuries, volleyball pounds FAU

Meant to make this post yesterday afternoon, then last night, then fell asleep early after pounding blackened fish and Rice-A-Roni, still didn't win Lotto, so here I am getting my daily cup of Colombian from Europa with a little mini-jambalaya of topics.

FOOTBALL

Wide receiver Glenn Coleman got the wind blasted out of him on the play that resulted in Troy's fumble return touchdown, then spent Tuesday dealing with bruised ribs and a stiff neck.

According to FIU coach Mario Cristobal, defensive tackle Joshua Forney suffered a sprained ankle when we went down in the third quarter.

MEN'S BASKETBALL

 

Only on TV.

The Sun Belt coaches voted FIU 5th in the six-team Sun Belt East and honored only one player, DeJuan Wright, with a preseason All-Sun Belt selection (second-team at that). Somewhat predictably, FIU coach Isiah Thomas didn't show pique at the poll even if he felt it.

"We just want to play well every night," Thomas said during Wednesday's Sun Belt men's basketball teleconference. "Clearly, the people making the poll think other teams have better players than we do and they probably do."

But, Thomas said, he hopes the team learned from the way they lost several close games last year.

"We lost with a young  group that hopefully learned the importance of making foul shots, not making key turnovers in situations," he said.

Thomas also thinks the team's got a better grasp of defensive concepts he wants to execute, which involve a lot of trapping, switching and rotation. FIU's foul problems last season, he believes, came after they got seduced into "excessive gambling" by their success at making steals: "We were second in the league in steals. I think our team got too excited about trying to steal the ball rather than containing their man and forcing a tough shot."

By the way, FAU coach Mike Jarvis responded to being the East Divsion favorite and the consensus overall favorite with some suspicion and paranoia -- "I know there are people who pick us to win because they don't think we will. It's the ol' set up game" -- but also said, "every team I've coached that was expected to win has."

What Jarvis can't be happy about is the only place FIU's been shown any love, the Sun Belt Network schedule. The Panthers have three games on the Sun Belt Network while FAU has only one. That one is the game at FIU Jan. 21. FIU's also on against North Texas, a Feb. 9 home game, and on the road Feb. 16 against Arkansas-Little Rock.

The FIU women will be on Sun Belt Network Dec. 11 at Western Kentucky live. The women's Jan. 21 home game against FAU will be on the next day at 1 p.m. 

VOLLEYBALL

Sabrina Gonzalez had a team high 15 kills, Jovana Bjelica had 11 kills, freshman Silvia Carli had three service aces as FIU crushed FAU 3-0 (25-9, 25-22, 25-16) Wednesday night. FIU's 14-7, 6-4 in the Sun Belt. Or, put another way, 14-4, 6-0 in the Sun Belt against everyone except Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee State. 

October 26, 2011

A few thoughts from FIU 23, Troy 20 (OT)....

What we’ve seen from FIU over the last month:

Slopping about and losing prompts anger. Slopping about, but winning with some difficulty against a lousy opponent prompts annoyance. Slopping about, but winning against an opponent with some talent prompts giddiness – especially if you’ve saved your season.

That’s what we’ve seen from FIU over the last month, most recently in the Tuesday night-early Wednesday a.m. moments after a fun, flawed, augmented, drama-drenched 23-20 overtime win against Troy. Wesley Carroll, usually coolly happy or frustrated into rote cliché, didn’t just laugh, he seemed on the verge of giggling. Mario Cristobal chuckled, joked about his demeanor after a first half of flags, fumbles and assorted foibles ("Oh, there was some talk in the locker room. Good thing we had the doors closed.")

Maybe it’s that, acknowledging media deadlines or just the lateness of the hour, Cristobal and the players entered the postgame media conferences much sooner than usual. I don’t think so, though. Wins against Louisville and Central Florida prompted fist pumps, flying chest and hip bumps. This was more the “phew, that was close. You OK?” after your tire blows at 80 on I-95, but you keep it out of the ditch and the semi misses you.

Or, the other side’s kicker misses to the left – twice.

“He pulled them,” Troy coach Larry Blakeney said of kicker Michael Taylor’s second extra point attempt and the 43-yard overtime field goal attempt. “He flat out pulled them. That’s the one little problem he has.”

Actually, when Taylor clanked his second extra point off the left upright, it didn’t keep Troy from winning in regulation. It just opened the door to overtime. If FIU trailed 21-17 with 3:31 left and fourth and 2 at the Troy 3-yard line, they’d have gone for it. That opens another of possibilities, most of which end at a winner decided after 60 minutes. But at 20-17, FIU took the safe route and we got overtime.

Tuesday’s imperfections kept the game as entertaining even while being exasperating. Somebody on Twitter said during the fourth quarter that I must be falling asleep in the press box from the bad football. No, that would’ve been Sunday’s first 55 minutes of the Dolphins game – awful and excruciating to watch. Tuesday could’ve kept me riveted even if I had been at home with pizza, Long Islands and the DirectTV universe at my command. So many moments of “Ooo, nice play!” “C’mon, man!” “Oh, my goodness!” “Whoa!” “That’s some ridiculous stuff there!”

Dealing with Troy’s go-go offensive pace concerned FIU. As Cristobal pointed out, they also substitute late before the snap, making defensive adjustments difficult. Tourek Willams said, “We had a package where we added two defensive ends and took two defensive tackles out. We wanted more speed on the field.”

Also, give the FIU defense credit for not getting spastic in the face of Troy’s pace. No offside penalties. Williams, matched against redshirt freshman right tackle Terrence Jones, had two sacks and several pressures. The right side of Troy’s line needed a kiddie menu, with Jones and freshman guard Zach Johnson. Most of Troy’s big runs came around the left side, where 6-4, 312-pound left tackle James Brown can make a running back look like Jim Brown.

Troy, whose running game previously just let quarterback Corey Robinson rest his arm, actually ran well, with backs Shawn Southward and D.J. Taylor picking up 95 yards and two touchdowns on only 13 carries. But they couldn’t protect Robinson and their receivers kept running the four-yards-short-of-the-marker third down patterns that the Dolphins run so well. FIU squatted on those routes and tackled better than they have in a month. Troy made no adjustments after a first half with only four first downs and zero third down conversions. Overall the last two weeks, FIU’s downfield coverage has improved. Troy threw for only 215 yards on 20 of 34 passing. They ran only 59 plays, 18 below their average.

FIU’s offensive line was the Panthers’ game in microcosm. Their first half penalties -- two holds on left tackle Caylin Hauptmann, a hold on Rupert Bryan, two false starts on Bryan in the same series – interrupted more drives than Dolphin Expressway wrecks. But Hauptmann, Bryan, left guard Shae Smith, center Giancarlo Revilla and right guard Curtis Bryant moved Troy well enough for Kedrick Rhodes’ 172 yards on 30 carries and Darriet Perry’s 60 yards on 12 carries. By the end, they were just buffaloing Troy to the side most plays and it wasn’t like the Trojans didn’t know what was coming.

Such as on the fourth quarter fourth and 1 from the FIU 39. If that ball’s snapped, everyone, his mama and his unborn grandkids know Perry’s getting it. And he did for 6 yards over the left side. In overtime, nobody thought FIU would risk an interception. Six Rhodes runs, 21 yards, chip shot Jack Griffin field goal.

Rhodes, who said they knew they’d have success on some zone blocking inside runs, has 762 rushing yards for the season. Unless the coaches really see something in the defense that says a brute force back or a pure speed back works better, they should ride Rhodes the rest of the season like Seattle Slew and use the other backs as just a change of pace or to give him a rest. Perry’s now second in FIU history with 1,703 career rushing yards.

Griffin’s kickoffs were much better than in previous weeks. His average kickoff length was 65.8 yards and FIU’s net yards were 46.2.

Josh Brisk averaged 37.6 yards per punt, an average dragged down by his last punt, a 14-yarder in the final seconds of regulation. That left Troy a chance to Fredo the Panthers with a Hail Mary from the 50. Justin Halley picked that one off, giving FIU four interceptions in the last three games.

Carroll’s got three interceptions in the last three games and admitted Tuesday’s was something “that shouldn’t have happened.” He threw downfield for an open tight end Jonathan Faucher not just off his back foot, but hopping backwards in the face of pressure.

That throw aside, Carroll ran FIU’s offense expertly. Here’s FIU’s offense: in the second half, Carroll completed only five of 15, but for 144 yards and two touchdowns. This is a slugger’s offense. I love that Carroll, with T.Y. Hilton taking regular snaps most of the night, hit other guys deep as he did in finding Wayne Times for the 76-yard score and stepping up almost beyond the pocket to hit Jacob Younger for a 43-yarder on third and 21. Hilton’s FIU’s Ferrari, but he’s not the only potential playmaker in the Panthers garage. Several times this season, under a modicum of duress, Carroll has tried to make a tougher throw to a multi-covered Hilton rather than an easier downfield throw to a single covered receiver.

“It worked out exactly like we drew it up,” Carroll said. “Jacob Younger did a great job on his. Wayne Times beat man coverage. Great pre-snap read by everybody.”

Speaking of Hilton, the groan familiar to Dolphins fans late last season when they saw the increasingly ineffective Wildcat came from my throat each of the three times FIU lined up Hilton in the Wildcat Tuesday. With the base offense walking downfield in rhythm, the Hilton Wildcat couldn’t get in step.

The first time, a second and 1 from the Troy 20, they had moved the ball 50 yards in four plays, plus gotten a Troy offside. Perry got called for a false start (the only thing early in this town Tuesday – players on both sides of the ball moving before an FIU snap). Next time, first and 10 from the Troy 43 with a 47-yard drive working: Hilton carries left for a 2-yard loss. A punt ensued two plays later. The final time, FIU had driven 39 yards to the Troy 32 when Troy read the reverse to Coleman, who slipped for a 6-yard loss. That’s the series and drive that ended with the Younger touchdown, but you don’t get many 43-yard bombs on third and 21.

Hilton wound up with four catches for 62 yards and 161 all-purpose yards. He seemed a little ouchy late, although he looked roused after jawing with Troy's Xavier Lamb in the fourth quarter. Rhodes had 194 all-purpose yards.

Against Louisville and Central Florida, FIU demonstrated mental toughness at pivotal points that could’ve seen them collapse. Tuesday saw many such moments, most glaringly after a first half the Panthers owned everything but the scoreboard and, in the third quarter, Troy’s two touchdowns in 44 seconds to turn 17-7 into 20-17. A collapse at either time would’ve meant a collapse of the season.

Instead, they showed the maturity and strength from September that they didn’t show in Jonesboro last week. The Panthers sit 5-3, 2-2 in the Sun Belt. All they desire remains possible.

October 25, 2011

Women's Hoop: Belt Media day, Coley preseason all-conference, FIU predicted 2nd in East.

Ever look at your iPod and see a song that seems as out of place in yourTop 25 Most Played as Harvard would be in the BCS Top 25? Playlist or playlist placement explains every other song in my Top 25 except No. 18, Al B. Sure's "Nite and Day." Obviously, I like the song or it wouldn't be on my iPod. But in heavier iPod lifetime rotation than anything by Stevie Wonder or Billy Preston? I need to get my musical priorities in order...

Seven hours into a day after three hours sleep and one coffee, that's what's knocking around my head. I'd have gone back home for sleep after dropping the kid off at school, but it's Sun Belt Media Teleconference Day for women's basketball. Before a full coffee and technical difficulties right before FIU's Cindy Russo came on turned the call into a "Survivor" individual immunity challenge (why haven't they voted Russell's nephew off yet?), the preseason coaches polls were announced.

Sophomore guard Jerica Coley was named to the preseason all-conference first team. Junior forward Finda Mansare got a third-team honor. Russo sang of Coley, "She's right up there with the best players I've coached." She also described Coley as a coaches dream: "She listens, says "OK," then goes out and does it. That's rare these days." Though Coley's been a leader by example, Russo said, they're trying to get her to be a more vocal leader.

Russo also named Mansare, along with Coley and junior guard Carmen Miloglav, when ticking off team leaders after I asked about those who have helped coalesce a roster that's half new. Despite the newness, Russo said, "I don't think we've had a bad practice." She also said of Mansare and 6-1 guard Fanni Hutlassa, both of Hungary "We're working on them being more physical. I'm not sure if it's a European thing. We have some guards who'll take your head off from Europe."

FIU got one first place vote in the East and was picked second behind Middle Tennessee State, predicted to be first by nine of the Sun Belt coaches. Russo disagreed when a reporter suggested there was talent separation between Middle and the rest of the Sun Belt.
"We all have six or seven players who are above "mid-major" caliber," she said, but if anybody loses two or three, that team's kneecapped unlike a Tennessee or a UConn, "which just goes down and pulls them off the bench." She pointed to injuries for as the major factor for the team's inconsistency over the last three years.

OK, off to lunch. I'll be back on tonight after the game. As usual, no live blogging from me, but I'll be a-Tweeting (http://twitter.com/DavidJNeal) until deadline pressures force me to get double humpin' to please on the game story.

(I'd close by inserting video of Parliament doing "Theme From The Black Hole" live, but not sure the lyrics and connotation would pass Herald muster.)

Football Gameday VIII, volleyball, smidgen of hoop mention

Even before I heard outside hitter Jovana Bjelica now had a hat trick of Sun Belt Player of the Week awards, I rolled over to The Bank with the intent of talking to the Serbian junior who had 31 kills against Arkansas State Friday and averaged 6.38 kills per set over weekend wins against ASU (five-setter) and Arkansas-Little Rock (1-2-3-and-out)

Though the volleyball team wasn’t practicing, at least not at the normal time, I did wind up talking to a tall, blond woman who was a pretty good college athlete – Inge Nissen, longtime FIU women’s assistant coach, a Hall of Fame player at Old Dominion way back in the day. Our short conversation reminded me that Sun Belt media days for basketball are nigh, Tuesday and Wednesday. FIU women’s coach Cindy Russo’s up late Tuesday morning. So, we’ll finally have some hoop here.

 

FOOTBALL

On to the What Happened To Us? Bowl, between Sun Belt favorites FIU and Troy Tuesday. The advance is at http://www.miamiherald.com/sports.

The line opened with FIU as 5-point favorites. It’s moved up to 6.5 in Vegas, 6.0 on some of the offshore sites. The money’s coming down on FIU. The over/under got set at 55.5 or 56 depending on the book or site. Despite having Sun Belt Preseason Defensive Player of the Year defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi, Troy’s averages giving up 34.7 points per game and 460.8 yards per game, both worst in the Sun Belt, which is akin to being the worst driver in Hialeah. And they play fast, so there’s lots of plays and possessions -- 77.5 plays per game on offense, a conference-highh 77.0 on defense. Ergo, that over/under number would be higher if FIU’s red zone offense didn’t look as confused as Kramer in a hospital.

 

Speaking of which, I keep wondering why FIU didn’t go to 6-4 tight ends Jonathan Faucher and Colt Anderson more in the red zone, where they have one red zone touchdown pass. In the NFL, good red zone offenses often involve good tight end usage. The Patriots in the red zone? Like a Rick Barry free throw. One of the reasons the Dolphins have struggled in the red zone the last two seasons is a) Anthony Fasano’s a C-list tight end and b) they don’t know how to make the most of what Fasano can do.

This isn’t the NFL, but the same logical principles apply. When shrunken space shrinks speed advantages, bring on the combination of quickness and size. When FIU threw to a covered Faucher against Duke, he jumped over the defender for the ball and the touchdown.

Why not do that more often? Mario Cristobal’s answer:

“We’ve seen things that are there for them to have. We plug it in, we rep it, we make it part of the game plan. When we feel they’re taken away or we feel it’s more advantageous to go another route, we do so as well. One thing we have been for the most part is pretty efficient with the football. We haven’t thrown many interceptions. We’d like to stay along those lines when we do throw it. We would like to use them. They are good football players. When the ball’s been throw to them, they have been effective. It’s always part of our regimen looking, not only for the tight ends, but the backs as well, getting the ball to them in the passing game. The outside guys as well, involving them more. That’s a challenge we’re working on consistently – continue to spread the ball around and find the holes in the defense.”

Uh-huh.

However FIU gets to the end zone, the Panthers likely will need to do it often. Stop me if you’ve heard this before – Troy quarterback Corey Robinson averages 296.5 yards per game not far off what Arkansas State quarterback Ryan Aplin did before he met FIU. But Aplin showed up for Tuesday’s game apparently fresh from using the WABAC machine to swipe the body of Turner Gill in his prime. Almost half of Aplin’s 341 rushing yards this season came against FIU.

Offensively, again, FIU should move the ball at will. Troy’s not stopping anybody. We’ll see whether another week at work gives FIU the ability to run their offense without a false start penalty or some basic scewup that brings the drive screeching to a General Lee halt.

Troy’s kicked only six field goals this year. I’ll take FIU 38-35.

That’s just one black man’s opinion. I could be wrong.

October 20, 2011

A little football & futbol femme

Love working in he Graham Center, but it's a red sun planet as far as my wireless card's concerned. Also, FIU men -- I appreciate your etiquette, holding doors in restrooms and all. But unless everybody's doing their business while jackhammering, there's no excuse for those floors.

Anyway, wide receiver Willis Wright sat out Thursday's practice after twisting his knee Tuesday. He'll be undergoing tests this afternoon. Right guard Curtis Bryant came out during the game for Jordan White with an ankle injury, but did practice and is expected to play Tuesday, as is Glenn Coleman (shoulder, missed the last three games). Safety Chuck Grace, I would put at doubtful, at best.

Josh Brisk and Jack Griffin will be punting off this week to see who gets that task Tuesday against Troy. Similarly, Griffin and Dylan Lynch will have a kick off to determine who does kickoffs. As unspectacular as Griffin was in replacing Brisk Tuesday, Lynch matched that mediocrity on kickoffs. Or, perhaps not even that. With 22 seconds left in the half and FIU having just taken a 6-3 lead, allegedly, the plan was to boot it deep. Instead, Anthony Kincy fielded the ball at the 20 and hustled it up to the 44. Two Ryan Aplin runs and a 49-yard field goal bomb later, game tied, 6-6, at halftime.

WOMEN'S SOCCER

Coach Thomas Chestnutt took the blame for cutting things too tight on the women's hit-it-and-quit-it Thursday trip into Monroe, Louisiana. The lack of down time before the game so affected the team, which will be on their way back home Friday morning, that they were up 3-0 at the half on Louisiana-Monroe and cruised home by that score.

FIU's now 10-6-1, 7-1-1 in The Belt, and achievers of a third consecutive 10-win season, a program first. Kim Lopez volleyed home a ball into the area from Chelsea Leiva. Victoria Miliucci (a fan of the Dolphins of the NHL, the Toronto Maple Leafs) scored after a corner kick got knocked down in the area. Leiva finished the run of three goals in seven minutes by beating the goalkeeper to a Deanna Rossi ball and chipping it by the keeper.

Monroe's 0-9 in the Sun Belt, 5-12-1 overall, but Chestnutt said, "Our last time here, we went to double overtime. It's always tough to come here. They do a good job at home."

 

 

October 19, 2011

A few thoughts from Arkansas State 34, FIU 16

Started this in a Waffle House in Jonesboro, postgame. There’s another one an exit up Highway 63. At this one, a woman tries to pick up more waitress shifts, a guy tells how his wife cheated on him with his brother during the few months the brother was out of prison and a few guys come tottering in squiring young women with ridiculous heels, animal print leggings and overdone makeup. Some Arkansas State football players get postgame grub.

Somewhere, there’s a metaphor for how FIU played this game, this worse-than-it-sounds 34-16 loss that sprayed seltzer in the face of every logical expectation.

Let’s stop searching for a metaphor and hear the summation. Or, two. Take the opening drive. T.Y. Hilton climbed air stairs to bring down a Wesley Carroll pass for 32 yards to the ASU 34. Next snap, left tackle Caylin Hauptmann false starts. Carroll runs for 1, then Kedrick Rhodes for 14 and another first down. This series of downs, center Giancarlo Revilla is called for being an ineligible man downfield on an incompletion off a Carroll scramble. FIU doesn’t recover from this, a third and 13 pass to Willis Wright on a short cross getting only 7 yards. Field goal attempt from 37 yards, just wide left.

Should Griffin have made it? Yep. Would it have gone through had it been 5 yards closer? Yep. Would the point be moot because, without either penalty, the drive would still be going? Possibly.

“It was (disappointing),” FIU coach Mario Cristobal said. “Penalties that are very easily avoidable. That stuff hurts us. We worked on it the last 10 days or so. Felt that we got a little better. We let the crowd effect us a little bit. It ended up hurting us. Put us in bad down and distance situations.”

The drive to FIU’s first field goal rolled along until a chop block by Revila on an incompletion meant, instead of a difficult third and 10 from the ASU 18, the Panthers faced second and 25 from the 33. A Rhodes run left third and 21. Again, maybe Griffin would’ve been called upon anyway, but as the saying goes, nobody’s got a third and 21 play in the playbook.

I’m of two minds on this. Some of this comes down to coaching. Cristobal has at times taken blame for some of the penalties of overaggression. Chop block penalties blow up drives the way chop blocks blow out knees. Then again, perhaps as I’ve mentioned before, if New England didn’t lead the league in false starts over its last two Super Bowl-winning seasons, it was among the top five and nobody would say the Patriots are poorly coached. But it also comes down to players just deciding to bear down and do what they’re supposed to do. This is basic stuff. Pre-snap penalties are undisciplined penalties. People think of unsportsmanlike conduct and late hit penalties as comprising the term “undisciplined penalties.” Not entirely. There’s self-discipline in doing the right thing, too. As I did last week, I reference John Madden from the era when he was still in touch with the coaching mindset and the game. He said people look at a team in suits, saying “sir” and “ma’am” and think, “What a well-disciplined team.” But, to Madden, if one of those guys jumped offside on third and short, that guy’s an undisciplined player, no matter what he wears or how well he speaks. If he doesn’t, he’s a disciplined player, no matter how late he partied the night before.

 

That brings us to summation No. 2, from Cristobal:

“The most important thing to do is to face reality. We’re not where we want to be as a football team. We’re not where we expect to be at this time of year. That’s the reality of it. As we talked about in the locker room, you face that. You confront that.”

And, “When I say play, I mean as an entire program. We’re not playing well enough, we’re not coaching well enough.”

Obviously. They’re making simple mistakes they weren’t earlier in the season. They haven’t improved. Good teams get better as the season moves along.

Though they knew Ryan Aplin could run, they seemed stunned by the repeated development. Cristobal seemed to blame the linebackers most of all:

“He’s tough as can be. There were several occasions where we do have him bottled up and he kind of gets out of there in pressure situations or assignment situations. He got loose, sometimes, he read it well and sometimes we busted at the linebacker position.”

A request to speak to linebacker Winston Fraser, made before I heard that, was nixed by Cristobal (in contrast to the last two college coaches I dealt with on anything resembling a regular basis, Dennis Erickson at UM and Bill Mallory at Indiana, Cristobal wants the media relations folks to run all interview requests, even postgame, by him first. Apparently, that’s become the norm in many programs. That’s not, however, a good way to prepare a young man for NFL life, one of the program’s stated goals.)

Coverage in the secondary improved, although, again, when Arkansas State wanted a big chunk, they got it more often than not or got a pass interference call. And speaking of those flags, if you’re going to interfere, interfere – Sam Miller twice got flagged on important completions, the 40-yard bomb off the end of quarter okeydoke when Arkansas State faked letting the quarter clock run out before running it out by running a play, and the ensuing touchdown. That’s the definition of fruitless. No fruit for Sam.

Both coaches and Carroll himself have criticized him for taking a sack instead of just throwing the ball away. I call those “Ken O’Brien sacks” after the 1980s Jets quarterback who would lead the league in sacks taken because he’d hang onto the ball until he found an open receiver or found himself under 550 pounds of pass rushers. Tuesday, Carroll made at least three smart throwaways to avoid taking a Ken O’Brien sack. One of them turned into a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty.

The pass interference penalty he drew late in the second quarter after getting behind the defense – three officials at the game and several from as far away as Texarkana threw flags on that one -- and the third quarter 46-yard touchdown bomb showed that T.Y. Hilton’s knee problem after his 33-yard second quarter kickoff return wasn’t serious.

“My knee kind of gave out on me,” Hilton said. “But that’s kind of my fault. I had no business playing with the kicker. Just give him one move and go with it or just run past him so that’s all me.”

Blood ran colder on the FIU sideline for those minutes Hilton was down and not from the 50-degree chill in the air. If the Panthers were scared, so were the Red Wolves for a different reason – they kicked away from Hilton the rest of the night. Hilton ended with 130 all-purpose yards.

Kicking and punting duties fell on the desk – or foot – of Jack Griffin. Cristobal wasn’t happy with Josh Brisk. He didn’t sound any happier about Griffin’s 34.8 yards per punt with a long of 43.

The conference title’s probably gone, what with both Louisiana-Lafayette (4-0 in the Sun Belt) and Arkansas State (3-0) with two fewer conference losses than 1-2 FIU. A bowl bid possibility fades unless FIU can run the table and, even then, they don’t travel particularly well.

October 18, 2011

Football GameDay VII; swimming; soccer

WEATHER UPDATE: Dry, cool just before kickoff. The Over should be a steal.

Meant to do this last night after I finished covering the broad, physical foolishness the Jets and Dolphins inflicted on America. Unfortunately, my stay in East Rutherford was extended by a flat tire in a remote auxiliary parking lot. By the time I got back to the Manhattan base, I had time for only a wee hours snack and time to pack before heading for the airport. i slept on the planes.

It’s a drizzly, yucky day in Jonesboro, Arkansas, the kind of day best spent with hot tea tinged with rum and a good book. Not a day for golf, even though I don’t think the heavy stuff’s going to come down for a while. But I can’t help but think of today as FIU’s 10th hole, the first hole after the halfway point of the round.

I also think of it that way because the Panthers have started to resemble more than a few golfers I’ve covered. When I cover a golf tournament, I bounce among groupings, trying to be on the spot when someone makes a run for the top of the leaderboard. It’s a physical – I wind up walking or running several miles per round – but also intuitive way of covering an event. You have to quickly tune in to the vibe of a player and his round.

I often use auto racing terms when discussing or writing about non-auto racing stuff. It’s what you get from an Indianapolis-raised guy who honed his math skills rapidly figuring lap speeds and qualifying run averages (even down to my Hot Wheels – on my Thundershift 500 set, the cars ran 68 mph actual speed). Golfers are on rails (playing well), just turning laps (playing average), suffer a wobble (a tough par preceded or followed by a bogey, could be leading into a…), spin out (a few bogeys putting them several strokes off the pace) and crash (bogey run out of contention).

FIU’s at wobble.

The loss to Lousiana-Lafayette counts as a tough par. I’d score it a bogey, but the Ragin’ Cajuns are tearing through the Sun Belt, 4-0 and 6-1 overall. Obviously, they’re better than most of us thought last month. You know all the qualifiers – FIU was really without its best player (and Lou-La knew it), had a redshirt freshman quarterback for three quarters and were flatter than the stars of the IHOP meal in front of me right now. And they still lost by only 5 to what’s looking like a good team.

The loss to Duke was a bogey. A 10-point lead in the fourth quarter on a team you’ve sat on for two quarters and you give up two gumball machine cheap touchdown drives? FIU’s not Alabama, but that just shouldn’t happen. Granted, Duke’s a tough schematic matchup for FIU, but the Panthers have it over Duke Power’s favorite school athletically. Also, the lead should’ve been bigger.

The win over Akron was a bad par in many ways again already detailed here previously.  

So, the next two on Tuesday, here against Arkansas State and back at Camp Mitch against Troy, feel like the fork in the round. Two wins with the dogged problems – pass defense, red zone offense – corrected and FIU’s back in business on Blue Star. A win and a loss eliminates the margin of error. Two losses and hello wall, good bye this year.

For the preseason edition, I wrote that tonight’s game would be sort of like what happened after you figured out Mattel Football I or II, back in the day. The game got decided by who got the ball first in each half and who scored last in the first half. I see tonight’s game in a similar light.

The line opened with the Red Wolves 2.5-point favorites, now up to 3 or 3.5. Means the FIU money’s run a little stronger, but nothing big. The over/under’s 53 or 52, which as this dried up before kickoff, is an invitation to steal the house’s money.

Arkansas State’s not stupid. They’ll probably attack FIU the same way Duke did, but without the same sophistication in scheme variance. They’ll be successful, too. I don’t see Arkansas State stopping FIU much, either, and I see it happening the same way for the Panthers as the Red Wolves – big plays down the field, although I also see FIU getting in a few more big runs.

FIU’s improved on special teams coverage the last two games, but Mario Cristobal’s worried about the Red Wolves “big speed” and “long speed” on special teams. Now, college coaches have a way of making every opponent sound like the 2001 University of Miami future Pro Bowl roster. Cristobal’s no different, but that’s the first time he mentioned that with an opponent. That concerns him more than some of ASU’s other assets.

Still, this is an awfully tough set up for FIU. I’ll scale back the score from the preseason edition on the weather, but I still see it 35-31 or so for Arkansas State.

But, that’s just one black man’s opinion. I could be wrong.

SWIMMING

Sabrina Beaupre has been named Sun Belt Diver of the Week.

WOMEN’S SOCCER

FIU goalie Kaitlyn Savage has been named Sun Belt Player of the Week.

October 17, 2011

Pregame FIU-Arkansas State blog coming late night...or tomorrow.

I've had a few days off. I planned to throw up a few blogs during that time as the women's soccer team got a big win, the guys soccer team suffered heartbreak in Dallas against SMU and the volleyball team again got KO'd in straight sets by Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee State, but, well, it just didn't work out that way and I decided to use my days off to be...off.

I'm covering Dolphins-Jets tonight and have a 6:30 a.m. flight to start the journey to Jonesboro. This causes me to debate the necessity and practicality of sleep. Don't expect the usual pregame blog or if it's of usual length, it'll exceed the others in incoherence (no mean feat). It might get posted tomorrow morning between flights instead of the usual wee hours the night before the game.

Check out Armando Salguero on the Herald's Dolphins-Jets live blog over at http://miamiherald.typepad.com/DolphinsInDepth.

 

 

October 12, 2011

Probables: Jacob Younger to play, Demarkus Perkins to redshirt.

A few tidbits from FIU football practice...

Jacob Younger has recovered from the shoulder injury that kept him out against Akron or, rather, recovered enough to be declared something like "probable" for Tuesday's game against Arkansas State. Don't expect wide receiver Glenn Coleman or safety Chuck Grace, however. 

A blog reader asked about safety Demarkus Perkins and linebacker Larvez Mars.

I don't understand the curiosity about Mars any more than any other linebacker who can't get on the field. Four-star recruit, fine. That was three years ago. He's played one season, redshirted another, and is a redshirt sophomore down the depth chart. Once you've been in school a few years, your recruiting ranking matters about as much as your high school class rank to your Advanced Calculus class professor. It just shows how ridiculous the hype over recruiting is. I cover recruiting because fans go nuts over it and it's the basis of a program's success. I'll tell you who they got, how they plan to use him and maybe how some folks who make a living claiming expert knowledge of talent rank him. But that doesn't mean any of us -- recruiting sites, reporters, coaches -- know anything with certainty about how a teenager will mature physically relative to his peers, whether he'll maintain or acquire a work ethic, how well he'll adjust to college life, etc. The only thing more prematurely stupid than grading NFL drafts (and I've done that for The Herald without enthusiasm more than once) is ranking recruits and recruiting classes. 

Perkins, I can understand the curiosity about what happened? He's a sophomore who, after a year of junior college, was looked at as a potential starter by a Pac-10 school. A few months later, he's buried on FIU's roster. That's a precipitous drop that begs, "Porque?"

"Demarkus got here really late. We'd already started practice," Mario Cristobal said. "He's definitely got the physical tools, he's definitely smart enough. I think it was a lot for him to have to catch up to to be effective on the field. He did ding up his shoulder a little bit, which hampered his development a little.

"Gettting here late, getting dinged up, having to get in shape...that's a lot of stuff to overcome," Cristobal continued. "We do feel comfortable with the strides some of the guys in the secondary are making, so we felt it was best that he didn't play as of last week. More likely than not, he will redshirt. He's still developing. Still getting plenty of reps in practice. We still think he's going to be a really good player, but he's got a lot to learn."

 But, he insisted, they still weren't set on going the redshirt route with running back Shane Coleman. They're still worried about injuries to the running backs ahead of him on the depth chart.

October 11, 2011

Soccer ties UCF 0-0, Colimon commits for football, Forde gets injured

FIU's men's soccer team's zeroed out their two Top 25 opponents this season after a 0-0 tie with No. 6 Central Florida Tuesday.

Lightning suspended the game with 4:49 left and the rain rendered the field unplayable. Officials called the game.

UCF brought in the nation's leading scorer, McKauley Tulloch, but FIU threw senior defender Jahbari Willis at him. Tulloch mustered only two shots at goal, none on goal. Freshman Rodney Greiling, who blanked No. 21 Kentucky, stopped all six UCF shots.

FOOTBALL

Been watching for when Riviera Suncoast safety Davison Colimon would make his decision on where to go. He'd said it was down to FIU and SMU before the season. He attended the FIU-Central Florida game with Suncoast teammate and close pal cornerback Abiade Granger (rivals.com says Granger has an FIU scholarship offer. Sources based around Camp Mitch say FIU has not offered Granger).

Monday, Colimon verbally committed to FIU. Colimon's a state high hurdles champion and could be moved down to linebacker in the Jimmy Johnson way adopted by FIU.

 

 

VOLLEYBALL

Jovana Bjelica was named Top Performer of the Week by The Collegiate Volleyball Update after her 20 kills and eight digs as FIU swept Flroida Atlantic 3-0 (25-22, 25-23, 25-17). Bjelica's 4.28 kills per set rans 23rd in the nation.

On the downside, setter Renele Forde suffered a thigh strain in practice Monday and coach Danijela Tomic said Forde was questionable for this weekend's matches. I'd go for less than questionable after seeing Forde hobble through the Graham Center this afternoon on crutches with left thigh wrapped. 

Senior Andrea Lakovic said wanting to get work with a new setter is one of the was one of the reasons Tuesday's practice, run by the players after Tomic felt Monday's practice was flat, ran long.

 

October 10, 2011

Coming on Down & Zero Not Soccers' Hero

Just couldn't stay awake Sunday evening, when I planned to make this post. So, it comes now, after dropping the kid off at school and being reminded by Europa's sound system what an abomination Kim Wilde's cover of "You Keep Me Hangin' On" is.

NO COMMITMENT ISSUES

Sources based at Camp Mitch confirmed Rivals.com's report that defensive tackle Marques Cheeks, out of New Orleans O. Perry Walker High, has verbally committed to FIU. Cheeks has bulked up to 270 at 6-4, but FIU probably will start him out at defensive end. Cheeks, who also had Mississippi State after him among other schools, has family in South Florida.

 

 

ZEROED OUT

In three weekend games up in Bourbon-Whiskey Country, the soccers combined for zero goals.

The men lost 3-0 at Memphis Saturday night, falling to 4-5-2 and 1-2 in conference play. Coming to Camp Mitch Tuesday night is No. 9-ranked Central Florida

Sandwiching that result were the women matching zeroes with Western Kentucky on Friday, then losing 2-0 Sunday at Middle Tennessee State. The loss ended a six-game unbeaten streak and dropped them to 7-6-1 (4-1-1 in The Belt). The first goal ended a run of 386 scoreless minutes for FIU.

Women's coach Thomas Chestnutt felt Middle Tennessee scored against the run of play (a trend of the women's early season losses) and said via text, "The (women) played hard after 110 minutes on Friday -- and had the energy to control the game -- we just didn't execute in the deciding moments."

 

October 09, 2011

A few thoughts from FIU 27, Akron 17...

While Akron product LeBron James dunked at FIU, FIU turned a dunk into a 15-foot jumper in Akron.

At halftime of "LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh present The South Florida All-Star Classic at FIU," Isiah Thomas presented a $50,000 check from the Mary's Court Foundation, the beneficiary of the game's proceeds, to the First Generation Scholarship Fund.

Saturday in Akron's old school, new design stadium was drier in every way than at FIU's U.S. Century Bank Arena.

Love that Akron dresses across the street at the field house and walks across Akron-20111008-00157
to the stadium.

 

Nobody bounced or skipped out of the FIU locker room late Saturday afternoon. For the most part, the addidas clad players and coaches emerged with faces set from grim to resigned. You can see the same looks on 6 p.m. weekday shuttle flights between LaGuardia and National worn by business folk returning from getting the job done without distinction.

Even the ever enthusiastic Mario Cristobal couldn’t put much rah-rah into FIU’s fourth win of the season. Oh, he pointed out 4-2 was FIU’s best record ever at this point in the season and they finished their non-conference schedule at 3-1, the best FIU ever has. Cristobal did so not exuding the testosterone and adrenaline of great victory nor while controlling his plastique temper, as he seemed to be at times after the loss to Duke. Instead, with a result that inspired neither of those energizing emotions, he seemed drained by the game.

Akron hadn’t held a lead on a Division I (FBS) opponent this season. The Zips are a running team with a depleted offensive line. They have a bend-but-don’t-break-too-easily defense. FIU ran for over 200 yards, passed for over 300 yards, yet still won only 27-17.

Defensively, they did the job. FIU stuffed Akron’s base running game – 55 yards on 19 rushes for running backs Jawon Chisholm, Karl Bostick – and often met Chishold or Bostick shortly after the handoff, like a bunch of angry closetalkers. The defense came up with its first turnover and first sacks in three games.

Individually, defensive end Tourek Williams abused his blockers, whether on the run or the pass, and at least three times blasted quarterback Clayton Moore as he threw. Williams and Jordan Hunt were ubiquitous early and throughout, although the official statistics might not show it for Hunt, who made a few tackles for which he didn’t get credit.

Wesley Carroll threw the bubble screens and short crosses to his 308 yards. T.Y. Hilton, who was limping on his ankle but figured he’d be fine in 10 days, caught a school-record 12 passes despite playing on a gimpy ankle through the second half. He ran out of the Wildcat set once for 8 yards. Kedrick Rhodes ran for 126 yards on 22 carries. Darriet Perry picked up 85 on 20 carries.

Still, you felt some truth when Rhodes said after the game he thought FIU played down to its opposition too often so far this season.

There were the penalties, 10 for 80 yards, most of them pre-snap penalties on the offensive line…the missed touchdown opportunities inside the Akron 20…the dropped passes and general sloppiness…against most other teams on their schedule, had FIU played this way, they’d have been the recipients of an underwear-nightmare humiliation.

FIU outgained Akron 265 to 101 in the first half, 120 to 18 in the second quarter. The scoreboard read 13-10 as Akron came out for the last seconds of the first half with a kneel down clearly in mind. One Ohio-based reporter quipped, “Going into the ‘Victory Formation.’” Another reporter in the press box quipped, “Yeah -- Moral Victory Formation.”

FIU seemed to be right on pace to duplicate the Duke loss. The red zone problems that dogged them at Duke followed them to Akron, slightly adjusted.

“Similar situation,” quarterback Wesley Carroll said. “We were able to move the ball, but we need more points. It’s evident. Wev’e got to score better in the red zone and we’ve got to make more plays. I’ve got to put the ball on the money. Receivers got to catch it. Line’s got to block.”

Cristobal said, “Against Duke, I though execution (in the red zone) was the problem. Here, it was penalties, although I guess you could say that’s part of execution, too.”

Out of the 20 drives directed by Carroll on which FIU got to the 15 or closer, they have touchdowns on 11, field goals on five and got bupkiss on four. That’s not good enough, especially when you play in the points-by-the-peck Sun Belt. Not picking on Carroll, but if it’s the quarterback’s job to get the team into the end zone and it’s a spread option offense, a chunk of the problem gets put on his desk. Then again, he can’t make everyone’s block or catch his own passes.

Nor, can he put a starting gate on the line of scrimmage to keep linemen from jumping the count. Six illegal procedure penalties by my count Saturday.

It got to the point when I wondered aloud, “Are they telling the line the snap count?”

Cristobal was referring to the pre-snap penalties when he mentioned, “a lot of penalties that are unacceptable some have to deal with focus and concentration.”

No penalties to blame for the first red zone failure. FIU marched smartly to the Akron 8 on its first possession. A pair of Kedrick Rhodes runs moved all of 2 yards. On third down, Carroll didn’t see wide receiver Willie Wright alone over the middle, instead underthew running back Darriet Perry on a checkdown. Jack Griffin hit the right upright on his chip shot field goal.

The next possession, a third and 2 from the 15 became third and 7 from the 17 after an illegal procedure call on FIU. So a layup first down against a terrible run defense became a passing down. Carroll threw incomplete FIU had to call on Griffin again.

Griffin’s next field goal followed Carroll not seeing a very open Jonathan Faucher at the goal line in the middle of the field and threw it away not far from that direction. I find it strange FIU doesn’t look for the tight ends more in the red zone. They did last week and got a touchdown catch from Faucher. When the small spaces around the goal line limit FIU’s speed, it’s time to bring the size and athleticism of your tight ends into play.

One play that won’t show up anywhere, but nearly turned the game – and got referenced in the postgame by Cristobal – was Dominique Rhymes drop on third and 5 from the FIU 23 in the third quarter. FIU began the drive on their 8, up 20-10. A touchdown puts Akron away, a field goal on the ropes, but a three-and-out gives Akron life. A defensive hold drawn by Hilton gave FIU a first down at the 18. Carroll split Rhymes numbers in the tummy, in stride on a post about 15 yards downfield. Drop.

I thought of Pierre Garcon’s second quarter drop in the Colts-Saints Super Bowl that proved a major turning point of that game. Similar pattern, although Garcon’s was deeper and more of a cross. But, the plays were alike in that both had running room and came on third down with their team driving to make a nice lead fat. Sure, enough Akron took the punt and drove 62 yards in four plays to cut the lead to 20-17.

 The roughing the passer calls, while goosing two Akron drives, seemed more forgivable if only because they were so questionable.

“Until you see those on tape, it’s hard to tell,” Cristobal said. “They said on one we hit him in the head (Tourek Williams) and the other we hit him late (Andre Pound). On the last one, I thought (Denzell Perine) came in low and it was a shoulder to shoulder type tackle, but it wasn’t.”

The call on Williams nullified an incomplete third down pass caused by Williams two plays after he caused another incompletion by brutalizing Moore in the mid-motion.

“I wasn’t expecting that because when I hit him, I hit him with my hands in the chest,” Williams said. “but the play before when I hit him, I kind of hit him a little high. And they just wanted to come back with something the next play. It is what it is. I let the refs ref and I just play the game.”

This week, while FIU could harrumph about the roughing the passer calls, they also got two big breaks of their own from the zebras. The third-and-6 that immediately preceded Akron’s field goal saw Clayton Moore overthrow Antoine Russell deep behind Sam Miller. Officials fortunately for FIU, didn’t see Miller hold Russell’s near arm for half the time the ball was in the air.

In the third quarter, as Kedrick Rhodes turned a safety valve into a drive-saving 14-yard gain to the Akron 4, officials somehow missed Caylin Hauptmann committing an egregious hold. The entire press box saw it, gave varying exclamations and waited for Rhodes nifty play to come back. But no call came.

No gritting teeth over the officials this week. This week, the team that frustrated FIU was FIU.

Afterwards, the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts took over the field for a camp out.

Akron-20111008-00161 

 

October 08, 2011

Football Gameday VI; volleyball; soccers; Hong Kong Phooey

The question for many of you in General Seating for today's NBA all-star charity event at U.S. Century Bank Arena is, “When do I get in line to be sure I claim a good seat?”

My answer would be, “Now.”

FOOTBALL

Like most of the Midwest, Ohio’s filled with pleasant people who chase you down over several floors when they don’t give you back your credit card promptly and who upgrade you automatically to a gargantuan SUV then drop you to a Dodge Charger when you remind them you’re driving around Akron, not the Eastern front. As I was buying an Akron Beacon-Journal, a late 40s guy with scruffy face, jeans, work shirt and baseball cap stopped to tell me a juvenile joke he tells his grandkids. Just because he saw me buying a newspaper and wanted to make me laugh. And this is in an area even more abused by the economy than South Florida.

Ohio’s favorite son, Archie Griffin, is the original subject of the line, “he’s a better young man than he is a football player and he’s the best football player I’ve seen.” That’s Woody Hayes on Archie. Aside from Mister Only Two-Time Stiff Arm Winner (who really is a tremendous person), Ohioans at stadiums on football game days more often resemble Woody’s famed bursts of temper -- angry, gravely-voiced, rude, belligerent, often drunk. Some of these people I count as shirt-off-my-back friends.

As much of a homecoming crowd as you can get for a 1-4 team will be in Akron’s house (I’m not writing that full name until I have to), some riding their first beer buzz of the day. So this tilt should have atmosphere if not fans, about 14,000 actual attendance. It might have a fair amount of scoring, too.

Akron does what teams used to do – pound the ball and, when either you couldn’t do that anymore, or you were doing it so well they feared you, go up top with a play action pass downfield. That’s important – downfield. That’s where FIU’s looked discombobulated lately. Receivers are coming open quickly, then staying open, giving little time for a pass rush. There's been communication issues there not helped by Chuck Grace's absence. If Akron bangs away, I think FIU eventually takes away the run, forces Akron to become one-dimensional while playing from behind, then hunts down the quarterback.

But, Akron might decide early on, "to heck with it, these guys have been eating the run like a Bob Evans breakfast, but seriously refunding against the pass the last two weeks and they've lost two shootouts. Forget about that shortening-the-game stuff. Let's look to throw, especially play action on first and second down, and try to get some points." That's what I would do if I were the Zips. What's to lose?

It won’t matter. Akron can’t stop the run – 4.5 per carry, 204.2 yards per game. So FIU will work it until the Panthers get bored or impatient or decide, eh, we could use another couple of T.Y. bomb touchdowns to get us on a highlight show or two. The last two weeks, the Panthers outmuscled Duke and Louisiana-Lafayette with Darriet Perry handling the load against Duke and Kedrick Rhodes doing 30 carries against Lou-La.

Watch for a kickoff return touchdown or near touchdown by FIU. Akron’s opponents return an average of 25.6 yards per kick and FIU’s fifth in the nation in kickoff returns.

Akron’s bad. FIU shouldn’t be a homecoming miracle victim.

FIU 45, Akron 24

To paraphrase an ex, that’s just one black man’s opinion. I could be wrong (as we've seen the last three weeks).

I won't live blog. I will Tweet throughout, http://twitter.com/DavidJNeal as I won't have the deadline pressure of night games.

VOLLEYBALL

After getting shoved toward the back of the bus by Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee State last weekend, the volleyball team marched up to FAU to redeem themselves. FIU got some of that with a 3-0 (25-22, 25-23, 25-17) victory. Jovana Bjelica ripped 20 kills, Renele Forde and Jessica Egan, a redshirt freshman, each got 15 assists. This is travel partner week, so no Sunday match for FIU.

WOMEN’S SOCCER

A tie is like kissing your roommate. Or, something like that. FIU played Western Kentucky  to a 0-0 tie Friday night that ends FIU’s winning streak at five, but stretches their unbeaten streak to six. They’re 7-5-1 and 4-0-1 in the Sun Belt.

The men’s soccer team, last seen knocking off No. 21 Kentucky, is at Memphis for a 7 p.m. game tonight. Akron, which is ranked No. 4, would have a much better shot at FIU in this futbol than the American version.

Because it's the kind of sunny, 57-degree Saturday that reminds me of my youth...

 

October 06, 2011

South Florida All-Star Classic on TV, online, on a new time

LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris --- look, you know what game I'm talking about. Now, there's television information and a change in time.

FIU announced late Monday night that Satuday's all-star game at U.S. Century Bank Arena will be televised on both CBS 4 and My TV 33. When CBS primetime programming starts at 8 p.m., Channel 4-WFOR will go to that and Channel 33 will stay with the game. The game will also be streamed on CBSMiami.com.

The game time has been moved from 7 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Doors will open at 5:30, an important point for those of you with Upper Deck General Admission seats. I already heard one pair of women talking about getting to The Bank at noon Saturday for the upper deck land rush.

Some of the proceeds from this event going to Mary's Court Foundation will go to FIU's First Generation Scholarship Fund, which provides financial aid to students who'll be the first generation in their families to earn a college degree.

October 05, 2011

Milton Doyle says "FIU in 2012"

While sitting in the Graham Center, pondering if there was enough from football practice to blog (they're not that optimistic wide receiver Jacob Younger plays this week even though they're taking it easy with him. There, that's it), I heard about a verbal committment for men's basketball's recruiting class of 2012.

Chicago Marshall basketball coach Henry Cotton called Milton Doyle, a 6-4 guard/forward, the best unsigned senior in town to the Chicago Sun-Times. Doyle sat out last season after transferring from Chicago Tilden to Marshall, then breaking his wrist. Despite that, a buzz about Doyle remained, especially after summer ball. llinois Prep Bulls-Eye, http://iprepbullseye.com calls "one of the most athletic players in the state and a solid mid-major recruit." 

Doyle has verbally committed to FIU.

Just because...

 

 

Catching up with football losses, futbol wins, all-star game ticket sales

To get started after a day off Monday...

Serious hoits: Apparently, suddenly getting work with the ball can be hazardous to your health.

Wide receiver Glenn Coleman will miss his second consecutive game with a shoulder injury suffered against Louisiana-Lafayette while catching four of his eight receptions this season. Wide receiver Jacob Younger’s two catches for 26 yards against Duke, one pass completion for 44 yards to Dominique Rhymes and two key penalties apparently came with a shoulder injury. He’s officially questionable for Saturday.

Don’t expect Coleman or free safety Chuck Grace back this week. Guard Curtis Bryant (thumb sprain) is questionable. 

The Line: FIU opened a 19-point favorite. It’s up to 19.5 or 20 depending on which sportsbook you check. Translation: some light FIU money by serious bettors who like to get down on games before the sportsbooks figure out they might’ve miscalculated on a line. 

Timeouts and such: As I forgot to ask about the timeout usage in the postgame and had Monday off, I brought it up to Mario Cristobal Tuesday. He gave a full explanation of those and threw in a side swipe at me for questioning in the blog them not running Perry on third and 1 in the fourth quarter on the play Wesley Carroll bounce passed a hitch to Wayne Times. One of you tattletales definitely told him about the latter and probably the timeout section, too. I couldn’t help envisioning some guy my age in t-shirt and khakis yelling in Eric Cartman voice down Collins Avenue, “Coach Cristobal! Coach Cristoballll! David just said you waste timeouts and, for the third time in three weeks, called out your running back usage!”

(How do I know someone told him? He said someone called him on the Perry thing. When I expressed mock disappointment that he didn’t read the blog, he gave an explanation that could be summed up thusly: I don’t know enough to make it worth his while to read me. I thought, “Aw, SNAP.”)

After I stopped laughing at all of that, I thought of this…

 

Anyway, as he’d said Saturday after the game about the second timeout in the second half, a player got rocked and disoriented. The first timeout of the half, off the fourth and 1, he said was caused by “a personnel issue.” He wouldn’t elaborate, but I have the feeling that it wasn’t all about FIU’s personnel.

The first half timeout on a second and 3, he said, “They jumped into something that was very foreign and did not match up with the play or the check to it. We hoped that they were bluffing or disguising something and they didn’t. So we used it for that purpose.”

He did admit they perhaps would’ve liked to have had one of the first half timeouts back. While talking timeouts, without segue, he jumped to:  

“And third down over here, that is a run play. I know you had written that it was a throw out on third down with Perry getting hot. It is a run first play. That’s a read option. When there’s six guys in the box, plus a seventh safety coming in the corner where we’re playing it, you’re outnumbered by two. It’s all option football. So you have to pull it. You keep it there, you’re going to get blasted for minus two.”

SOCCER STUFF

For shutting out No. 21 Kentucky 1-0 on six saves in his first collegiate game, freshman goalkeeper Rodney Greiling got the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Week honor. Usual starter Eric Reyes got sidelined by an illness, moving Greiling's debut up by several games.

She didn't get Sun Belt Conference Player of the Week, but few players have been as tangibly hot as freshman forward Ashleigh Shim. In the women's team's current five-game winning streak, Shim's picked up a point in four games and her two goals Sunday against South Alabama gave her four goals and an assist in the streak.

ALL-STAR GAME TICKET SALES

A line at FIU for basketball tickets? A line two or three times greater than the actual attendance for most of the games I’ve covered at FIU? I couldn’t miss the opportunity to see that. So I swung by Alfonso Field at FIU Stadium at Camp Mitch Monday morning after dropping the kid off at school. Ticket sales for "LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh present The South Florida All-Star Classic" figured to be amusing, at least. 

Some snapshots from the morning.

 South Westside-20111003-00143

South Westside-20111003-00142 
South Westside-20111003-00141 

 

Two young women left the southeast window with Lower Bowl reserved seats, which were sold out in about 40 minutes. Immediately, a guy in a white shirt and sunglasses descended on them asking if they would sell. “No.” He left.

I said to them, “You didn’t even want to hear his offer?”

One said, “No! We just paid $100 a piece for these!”

And probably could’ve sold them right then for at least $200. I understand you camp out for royalty seats to what you think is a once in a lifetime event that’s going to be The Scene, man. Been there. I’m not sure how much money you would’ve had to offer my 9-year-old butt for my 1977 Indy 500 ticket, but you don’t have it on you and probably can’t get your hands on it. But I was 9.

As a college student and as a full adult, with food to buy and rent to pay, I’ve at least thought about going for the money – Publix and FPL don’t cash memories. To not even listen to the man’s offer says you have too much money or too little sense.

It was nice meeting those of you who stopped me to say hi or ask if I knew what was going on as far as if or when they would stagger the opening of the windows. Oh, for those of you who saw me being so absorbed doing a crowd estimate count that I went on the wrong side of the open gate at the southwest corner of the stadium and ran into a fence: I hope you saw the whole thing and laughed really hard.

At first, surely to create buzz and a great scene for media, tickets were to be sold only at the Fieldhouse University Credit Union Box Office. Great idea, I thought. About as pure as it gets, gives an advantage to students and the scarcity of tickets in the hands of ticket brokers would really drive up the secondary market prices, multiplying the buzz.

Upon rolling up Monday, I saw lines running from ticket windows on the south side of the stadium, in addition to the one at the main box office. And two of the south side ticket windows had signs announcing “Upper Level GA $50 CASH ONLY” while others were marked “Lower Reserved $100 Upper Level GA $50.”

Uh, oh.

This is where old school concert ticket buying training would’ve come in handy. Back when TicketMaster was young, jheri-curls were cool and if somebody said an album dropped, we figured it broke, concerts meant camping out at a record store with a TicketMaster machine and as much cash as you could scrounge. Nobody used credit cards to buy tickets. Too much could go wrong with credit cards. Machines could get slow (happened Monday at one window) or just stop working. And, a cash transaction was faster, a big consideration when a few seconds could cost you a few rows or even a section.

(Besides, you couldn’t give up your credit card to the person buying your tickets. You never bought your own tickets. There was a 12-ticket per person limit. As we were suburban spawn but no longer in an area so rural we had fields that needed tending by a large brood, nobody had that many brothers and sisters. So, the first person in line bought their ticket, their best friends’ tickets and probably those wanted by No. 2 in line. The No. 2 person did the same and so on. For Van Halen in 1984, I was 16th in line at the Georgetown Road Karma, but my money was up at No. 4. A lot of camaraderie and trust in those concert camp outs, now that I think about it. Each of us in line was holding hundreds of OPM (Other People’s Money), but beyond No. 3 or 4 in line, most of the people whose money we held, we had met at the camp out. Once, when I had to work a Mickey D’s shift a 15-minute drive away, I was given a ride and marked as present for the eight hourly attendance checks of my shift.)

What ensued Monday was predictable. First, came the complaints from those in the main box office line about the other windows opening at the same time. The main Fieldhouse box office opened approximately 20 minutes early, I’m told (I left at 11:15 to run an errand and came back at noon). And heeeere come the complaints from those in Upper Level Only lines that they didn’t know this line was Upper Level Only until they got near the window (reading is fundamental, folks.). Some of that group complained when they weren’t allowed to slide over into the front of the All Tickets Cash or Credit line. And, predictably, those lines moved more ponderously than Vince Wilfork does with a football.

When the cash only lines cleared quickly, the remaining desperate ticket brokers whipped out cash and lumbered through a couple more times. In the following video, you see a stampede for the last open window.

 

Angry folks still without tickets at the 1:49 p.m. announcement of "sold out!" griped they didn’t know there would be separate lines or that it would help to have cash or that some tickets were flipped on the spot for decent whip-out. My brow wrinkled with incomprehension -- how could they be surprised? – before I realized most of these students were used to buying tickets online.

“It’s socialism!” shouted one young man whom I hope isn’t a student.

No, son, it’s about as pure a form of capitalism as you’re likely to see.

October 03, 2011

Football recruiting, soccer winning, volleyball, well...

Saturday's loss to Duke didn't hurt recruiting. FIU's engaged to be engaged to a couple of more prospects.

Lemarq Caldwell, a 6-0, 210-pound Tampa Bay Tech High running back making his visit this weekend, verbally committed to FIU Sunday, according to sources around the Mitch Madique Campus. Caldwell's a power back as well as the kind of taller, heavier durable back that FIU would like to add.

Sources around Camp Mitch confirmed that Tampa Jefferson wide receiver Adrian Jenkins also has committed verbally to FIU. Jenkins is 6-3, 195 who looks like a possession receiver among the class of pass catchers the Panthers have coming.

Interesting stat: With Wesley Carroll at quarterback, FIU has 9 touchdown plays of 15 yards or longer, 3 touchdown plays shorter than 15 yards and 3 field goals shorter than 32 yards.

So when FIU snaps the ball inside the opposing 15-yard line with Carroll at quarterback, they're as likely to get a field goal as a touchdown.

THE SOCCERS

Freshman Roberto de Sousa's goal with 33 seconds left in the first overtime pushed FIU over No. 21 Kentucky 1-0 and pushed FIU (4-4-2, 1-1) back up to .500 Sunday afternoon.

Following de Sousa's heroics, another freshman, Ashleigh Shim, scored twice to lead the women's soccer team to its fifth consecutive win, 2-0 over South Alabama.

VOLLEYBALL

Defending Sun Belt champion Middle Tennessee State walked into U.S. Century Bank Arena, spanked FIU 3-0 (25-20, 25-12, 25-18). This left FIU (10-5, 2-2) 0-2 on the weekend, 0-6 in sets against Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee. Jovana Bjelica had a team-high 10 kills. Judging from following this match on Twitter, you took about as long to read this summary as long it took Middle Tennessee to wax FIU Sunday. Must have been angry over having to miss church.

October 02, 2011

Beaupre, soccer and a few thoughts from Duke 31, FIU 27...

I’ve said for 25 years, “My problem with college football isn’t Saturday afternoon. It’s Sunday through Friday.” Walking through the parking lots, past the tailgates while listening to Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk,” Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight,” or James Brown’s “Night Train” on my iPod, I felt buoyant – and it wasn’t just the half a colada I had just downed. Youthful, positive energy rules. It’s why I like to work around campus. Paint splashed onto my pant legs, I felt ready to cover some fun.

 

And games don’t get much more fun than Saturday night in an FIU Stadium fuller than either of the last two weeks (although that official attandance of 22,682...come on, man). FIU lost 31-27 for reasons foreseen, lost after having a 27-17 lead in the fourth, lost their second consecutive home game and a chance to dump the last decent non-conference team on their schedule. But they lost in a game with 954 yards of offense and potential crackling in every play.

Exactly what FIU feared came to pass. Duke quarterback Sean Renfree, wearing No. 19 in Duke’s Colts-lookalike uniforms, had all the time he needed when he needed it most to imitate Johnny Unitas to Conner Vernon or Donovan Varner. Renfree didn’t get rushed in the literal sense until the second quarter and never got sacked. He did get banged around somewhat in the third quarter. Not enough to unsettle him for good, however.

FIU did a much better job extricating themselves from the blocks on the hitches and screens, then actually making the tackle. But on plays downfield, they remained at sea when they had to rely on the secondary.

Mario Cristobal said, “We showed them zone, we showed them man, we brought pressure, we dropped eight sometimes…”

You shouldn’t see Duke safety Mike Daniels or FIU cornerback Sam Miller at breakfast this morning. They’re still chewing on those gluttonous chomps of play action fake they took on T.Y Hilton’s 63-yard touchdown pass (Daniels) or Vernon’s 26-yard touchdown pass (Miller). FIU sat on Duke for the second and third quarters, but when Duke needed a score down 27-17 in the fourth, the Blue Devils went 63 yards in just three plays.

“We just changed up our coverages and we adjusted to the types of routes they were trying to do,” Fraser said.

Duke taketh and Duke giveth. Even more than usual, FIU’s offensive game sat in Wesley Carroll’s hands. And Duke eventually knocked the game out of Carroll’s hands with the late turnover.

“Penetration and I’ve got to get the ball out sooner,” Carroll said.

Hard to complain when a quarterback completes 25 of 39 for 348 yards and three touchdowns and directs a spread offense to 568 yards. Well, it’s hard to complain unless there’s only 27 points on the board and you lose. That’s pretty much what both Carroll and Cristobal said afterwards. Carroll pointed to FIU failing to punch the ball in on three red zone trips, something they’ve been almost automatic on earlier this season.

Hilton dropped two other bombs. FIU scored anyway after he dropped a perfect throw in the first quarter. In the fourth, after Duke made it 27-24, he juggled to the ground what would’ve been about a 50-yarder if he falls after catching it, a 95-yard touchdown if he stays upright. Hilton said the flailing defensive back did get a piece of it, but his mistake actually was in the way he ran the route.

Carroll visibly lamented the third and 1 pass he bounced to Wayne Times later that possession. Cristobal used it as an example of the offensive night – just too imprecise. I found it a curious call, seeing as how Darriet Perry, FIU's power back, was having his best rushing game of the season. Late in the game on a steamy night, if you've got that kind of back going, isn't that when you want to batter the opposition with him? 

“We thought we had a good matchup outside,” Cristobal said. “Even in the third and short in our territory in the fourth quarter. We have a chance to convert that, maybe for a big, big play. We were hairs away in certain parts of execution that I know we’re better than.”

And on the final play of the first half, from the Duke 45, with three seconds left and Duke bringing only a three-man rush, Carroll took off and ran out of bounds. Considering the height and athletic advantage of the FIU receivers streaking downfield for a Hail Mary, that seemed a curious trashing of a play.

On that drive and later, Carroll wasn’t helped by being timeout poor. FIU tossed away timeouts like Tic Tacs Saturday, especially in a game that they knew would come down to late possessions. I agree with the John Madden philosophy – don’t burn a timeout to prevent a delay of game or, on defense, anything short of total calamity. They’re just too valuable late in each half.

FIU burned one on Duke’s first drive of the game, on a third and 1 from the FIU 41. Carroll called one to prevent a delay of game on a second and 3 after a quick screen completion to Willis Wright to the FIU 27 with 9:35 left in the second quarter. No excuse for it to be close to a delay of game nor is second and 3 time to waste a timeout. FIU used their last timeout at the start of Duke’s next possession, first and 10 from the Duke 32 with 4:01 left in the half. That’s either disorganization or panicking.

So, when FIU got the ball back at its own 35 with 44 seconds left in the half, no timeouts in the bag.

In the second half, FIU blew a timeout on Duke’s fourth down attempt 1:08 into the half, one feeling even more wasted because Duke snapped the ball just after FIU called timeout and got stopped. Alas, no play, and Duke succeeded on their fourth down do-over.

Cristobal explained the next timeout, as Duke prepared to punt on fourth and 2 on the FIU 43 with FIU leading 27-24 with 8:18 left.

“We had a player who was dinged up pretty good,” he said. “And he wasn’t aware of the situation and he tried to get back in. we actually had to pull him out and have doctors take a look at him. To avoid an issue there with one extra person on the field, we used the time out to avoid a penalty.”

That left one timeout for when Duke took over on downs after Carroll’s fourth down incompletion with 2:29 left. FIU gave up a first down anyway so they couldn’t have kept Duke from running out the clock even with all their timeouts. Still, of the five timeouts used, at least four could’ve been saved.

I’m not into blaming officials and hate the whole “let the players decide the game" silliness. Players do decide the game. No official makes a player commit a penalty. If a player commits a violation and officials don’t call it, that’s more “deciding the game” than enforcing the rules of the game. Imagine you got mugged in front of a cop and he did nothing while saying, "Hey, times are tough, this is the start of the month when the rent's due. I don't want to decide who has money and who doesn't." Even when officials make a mistake, often so many things done by players lead up to that mistake or that mistake having consequence. The fool will use the wrong fork when the wise man’s not even sitting at the table.

That said, this ACC crew made some interesting calls and non-calls. In a game between teams with offenses that match up well against the opposing defenses, it’s strange that Duke wound up with only two penalties for 25 yards while FIU got zapped eight times for 85 yards.

The pass interference call on FIU’s Junior Mertile I thought was good at regular speed and good upon watching on DVR, but for a different reason. When the play occurred coming toward the press box, I originally believed Mertile didn’t get his head around to even look for the ball. Actually, he did – but he did it while pushing Connor Vernon back with his right arm as they both tried to make a play on the ball. That’s pass interference.  

The holding call that wiped out Wayne Times’ wonderful touchdown catch was one you’ll see every day of the week and particularly on Sunday. Jordan White, who made a nice block to augment Kedrick Rhodes 52-yard screen pass in the third, grabbed Duke defensive end Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo like a five-year-old not wanting Mommy or Daddy to leave him at kindergarten. Carroll drifted to that side, so the hold clearly prevented the prime sack threat.

A pass interference on Jacob Younger eliminated a successful fourth and 4 conversion to the Duke 14 on FIU’s first second half possession. It ignited Cristobal when it was called and had him on fume after the game.

“I was told it was a pick play,” Cristobal said. “We don’t have a pick play in our offense, so I’m looking forward to watching the film to see exactly what was called.”

Younger comes off the line and goes right into contact with safety Walt Canty about 5 yards downfield and maintains contact for a second or two, effectively sealing off Canty from tight end Colt Anderson, who moseyed over to the left sideline. Did Younger obstruct Canty with contact? Yes. Was that the design of the play? Sure looks like it. Was it a judgment call? Yep. But there’s a way to do what Younger was trying to do with greater subtlety.

SWIMMING

Sophmoore diver Sabrina Beaupre qualified for her second NCAA regionals Friday in FIU's season opening meet with Flroida Gulf Coast. Freshman Johanna Gustafsdottir swam the second best 200 IM in FIU history, 2:08.10. Heavy rains and lightning halted the meet after six events with FIU down 68-44.

MEN'S SOCCER

Completing Homecoming weekend celebrations of the past, the 1996 national runner-up team will be honored at halftime of Sunday's noon match with Kentucky. That's the first game of a doubleheader, the second head of which will have the women's team hosting South Alabama.

 


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